Leaders with the Austin school district, the University of Texas Dell Medical School and Austin Community College on Wednesday announced a partnership to create a new health professions program in Austin.
The program, previously discussed as only a health professions program at LBJ High School, will be extended to the middle school level, and the planned Mueller campus would house the program, officials said.
Other middle schools also will offer medically themed courses as the district works to strengthen the overall program, Austin school Superintendent Paul Cruz said.
“The opportunity here is about inspiring our students and expanding their opportunities,” Cruz said. “It’s about preparing our kids for a health professions career and opportunity, and it’s about having a focus on a rigorous course of study for our students in our health professions area.”
LBJ is already home to Career Launch, a workforce program that gives students a chance to earn an associate degree in nursing and other health fields while working toward their high school diplomas. The program prepares students to enter the job market with their two-year degrees. The new health professions program would start in middle school and prepare students for Tier I universities and continuation into medical school.
Reg Baptiste, an Austin cardiothoracic surgeon and a Dell Medical School program director, went through a similar high school program in Houston. Training people for a career in medicine starts in middle and high school, he said.
“I found it really valuable to see individuals that were surgeons, that were nurses, that were pharmacists, and allow me to be inspired and realize that despite your ZIP code, despite your last name, you, too, could be a physician or surgeon,” he said.
The plans hinge on whether the district’s $1.1 billion bond package passes, officials said, as $22 million of it is slated for construction to launch the new health professions school at LBJ. An additional $61 million is earmarked for building an 800-student middle school in the Mueller neighborhood, which also would have a health professions track within it.
If the bond passes and nationally ranked Liberal Arts and Science Academy moves out of LBJ High, LBJ will have only 850 students left on a campus with room for more than 1,900. The district plans to use that space to build the first phase of the health professions school, which would be available to transfer students, and begin expanding Career Launch.
The Austin district has wanted to launch a type of medical magnet school for years, but those plans were put on hold after voters turned down two of four propositions in a 2013 bond package that included $12 million for such a school. The district is going back to voters now to ask for double the amount to make the health professions school a reality. If voters turn down this bond, plans for the school once again would be put on hold or the district would have to find another funding source.
“The beauty of the Mueller property is that it sits in a location that bridges communities in this city,” said state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, who worked for months to solidify the partnership. “It’s a perfect place to bring children of all different backgrounds together to share in the same rigorous education.”
Cruz said students living in the neighborhoods zoned for the schools would “have these initial opportunities,” but said they are still working on admissions requirements for the program.
The Austin school district’s news comes more than a year after IDEA, a charter operator with campuses in Austin, announced its own plans to launch a K-12 health professions school to roll out next year.
The charter’s plans were boosted by a $14.9 million grant announced two weeks ago from the Magnet Schools Assistance program, a federal initiative aimed at helping desegregate schools.
“Closing the achievement gap means educating as many students to and through college as possible,” said Tom Torkelson, IDEA’s founder. “We are grateful for the support of the Magnet Schools Assistance program grant that will help us open IDEA’s first health professions magnet school and enable more children in Austin to pursue careers in health industry.”